Skip to content
Reviews |  Roxane Gay: The shooting of Uvalde shows the deep incivility of America

There is a cultural obsession these days with civility, with the idea that if everyone is mannered enough, any deadlock or difference of opinion can be overcome. But these are desperately uncivil times. And there is nothing more barbaric than the political establishment’s relentless pursuit of mass killings in the United States: 60 dead in Las Vegas, 49 dead in Orlando, 26 dead in Sandy Hook, 13 dead in Columbine, 10 dead in Buffalo. Adults, schoolchildren, spectators, nightclub revelers, grocers, teachers.

The scale of death in Uvalde, Texas is unfathomable. At least 19 children and two teachers died. These staggering figures will not change anything.

Time and time again we are told, both implicitly and explicitly, that all we can do is endure this constant violence. All we can do is hope that those bullets won’t hit us, our children, or us. Or our families. Or our friends and neighbors. And if we dare to protest, if we dare to express our rage, if we dare to say sufficient, we are lectured on the importance of civility. We are told to keep calm and vote to express our anger.

Incivility runs through the history of this country, founded on stolen land, built with the labor of stolen lives. The document that governs our lives effectively denied more than half the population the right to vote. It had only three-fifths of the enslaved population when determining representation. If you want to talk about incivility, let’s be clear about the depth of those roots.

The United States has become ungovernable not because of political differences, protests or a lack of civility, but because it is a country that does not want to protect and care for its citizens – its women, its minorities racial backgrounds and especially her children.

When politicians talk about civility and public discourse, what they are really saying is that they would rather people be silent in the face of injustice. They want marginalized people to accept that conditions of oppression are unalterable facts of life. They want to enjoy the power they hold, where they never have to compromise, never have to confront their conscience or lack thereof, never have to face the consequences of their inaction.

Gun violence is one of the issues that they don’t need to worry about because they believe that such calamities will never affect them or their families. Instead, these politicians talk about protecting our Second Amendment rights — and they’ve reinvented the Second Amendment as something that will fit whatever the gun lobby wants, rather than what the Constitution actually says. With a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the continued reinvention of the Second Amendment is likely to thrive, unchecked.

When asked for solutions, Republicans talk about arming teachers and training them to defend their classrooms. We hear that good guys with guns will valiantly stop mass shootings, even though there have been good guys with guns in multiple mass shootings and they haven’t stopped those tragedies.

These politicians offer platitudes, prayers and Bible verses. But they don’t care to do what needs to be done to stop the next gun massacre or the average 321 people shot a day in the United States – including 42 murders and 65 suicides. It is essential that we state this truth clearly, repeatedly and aloud. That we don’t let them hide behind hollow rhetoric. That they know we see through their lies. They need to know that we know who they really are.

They called for civility again and again, as they did during protests after black people were shot or killed by police in Ferguson and Kenosha and Minneapolis and Louisville. They called for civility when a proposed Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked this month. The draft decision tells people of childbearing age that they have no bodily autonomy. It’s barbaric.

Following the leak, legal and peaceful protests took place outside some of the judges’ homes. Journalists and politicians fell on themselves to condemn these protests as incivility – as if the protests were the problem. The Washington Post editorial board wrote that judges have a right to privacy, that public protests should never cross certain boundaries.

They call for civility, but the definition of civility is malleable and constantly changing. Civility is anything that allows them to exercise power without question or challenge.

In March of last year, Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut reintroduced the Background Check Expansion Act. The bill is common sense legislation that makes federal background checks mandatory for all firearm purchases, including private sales and transfers. Nothing happened with this bill. The vast majority of voters support background checks, but Republicans in Congress are preventing the bare minimum of gun legislation.

Their obstruction is vile evil. They are not people who value life, no matter what they say. They value power and control. This too we must say clearly, loudly and repeatedly.

There have been at least 213 mass shootings in the first 145 days of 2022. The politicians on both sides of the aisle who have allowed this convey no real sense of understanding or concern for the incivility of children practicing active shooting exercises and wearing bulletproof backpacks. at school. They don’t, it seems, care that kids are instructed to throw things at a gunman who might walk into their classroom. They only care about their own political interests.

On Tuesday morning, at least 19 parents of children woke them up and helped them brush their teeth, gave them breakfast, made sure they had filled their small backpacks. They held their children’s little hands while walking or driving them to school. These children were alive when their parents waved at them, handed them their lunches and kissed them on the cheeks. Their lives were precious and mattered.

The greatest of American shames is knowing that no amount of rage, protest, devastation, or loss will change anything about this country’s relationship with guns or life. Nothing will change in a loose political system where politics is sold to the highest bidder. Language is insufficient to express this lack of civility.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.